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The departments of France ( , ) and many of its former colonies are administrative divisions, roughly analogous to the districts of England. The 100 French departments are grouped into 22 metropolitan and four overseas region, all of which have identical legal status as integral parts of France. The departments are subdivided into 342 arrondissements, which in turn, are divided into cantons. Each canton consists of a small number of communes. In the overseas territories, some of the communes play a role at departmental level.


1812: Departments at the maximum extent of the First Empire
1843: France had 86 departments; Alsace and Lorraine were in France, but not Nice and Savoy
Before the French Revolution, France accumulated territory gradually through the annexation of a mosaic of more or less independent entities. By the close of the Ancien Régime it was organised into provinces. During the period of the Revolution, these were dissolved, partly in order to weaken old loyalties. Departments were created on 4 March 1790 by the National Constituent Assembly to replace the provinces with what the Assembly deemed a more rational structure. They were designed to deliberately break up France's historical regions in an attempt to erase cultural differences and build a more homogeneous nation. The old nomenclature was carefully avoided in naming the new departments. Most were named after an area's principal river or other physical features. Even Paris was in the department of Seinemarker.

The number of departments, initially 83, was increased to 130 by 1810 with the territorial gains of the Republic and of the First French Empire (see Provinces of the Netherlands for the annexed Dutch departments). Following Napoleon's defeats in 1814-1815, the Congress of Vienna returned France to its pre-war size; the number of departments was reduced to 86, as three of the original departments had been split. In 1860, France acquired the County of Nice and Savoy, which led to the creation of three new departments. Two were added from the new Savoyard territory, while the department of Alpes-Maritimesmarker was created from Nice and a portion of the Varmarker department. The 89 departments were given numbers based on their alphabetical order.

The departments of Mosellemarker, Bas-Rhin, and most of Haut-Rhinmarker were ceded to the German Empiremarker in 1871, following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. A small part of Haut-Rhin however remained French, and became known as the Territoire de Belfortmarker. When France regained the ceded departments after World War I, the Territoire de Belfort was not reintegrated into Haut-Rhin. In 1922, it became France's 90th department.

The reorganisation of Greater Paris (1968) and the division of Corsicamarker (1975) added six more departments, raising the total to ninety six. Finally there are the four overseas departments of French Guianamarker, Guadeloupemarker, Martiniquemarker, and Réunionmarker.

General characteristics

Population density in the departments at the census of 1968 (people/km²)
The departmental seat of government is called the prefecture (préfecture) or chef-lieu de department and is generally a city of some importance roughly at the geographical centre of the department. This was determined according to the time taken to travel on horseback from the periphery of the department. The goal was for the prefecture to be accessible by horseback from any town in the department within 24 hours. The prefecture is not necessarily the largest city in the department; for instance, in Saône-et-Loiremarker department the capital is Mâconmarker, but the largest city is Chalon-sur-Saônemarker. Departments are divided into one or more arrondissements. The capital of an arrondissement is called a subprefecture (sous-préfecture) or chef-lieu d'arrondissement.

Each department is administered by a general council (conseil général), an assembly elected for six years by universal suffrage, with the president of the council as executive of the department. Before 1982, the excutive of a department was the prefect (préfet) who represents the Government of France in each department and is appointed the President of France. The prefect is assisted by one or more sub-prefects (sous-préfet) based in the subprefectures of the department.

The departments are further divided into communes, governed by municipal councils. As of 1999, there were 36,779 communes in France.

In continental France (metropolitan France, excluding Corsicamarker), the median land area of a department is , which is two-and-a-half times the median land area of a ceremonial county of England and slightly more than three-and-half times the median land area of a county of the United States. At the 2001 census, the median population of a department in continental France was 511,012 inhabitants, which is 21 times the median population of a U.S. county, but less than two-thirds of the median population of a ceremonial county of England. Most of the departments have an area of between 4,000 and 8,000 km², and a population between 250,000 and 1 million. The largest in area is Girondemarker (10,000 km²), while the smallest is the city of Paris (105 km²). The most populous is Nordmarker (2,550,000) and the least populous is Lozère (74,000).

The departments are numbered: their two-digit numbers appear in postal codes, in INSEE codes (including "social security numbers") and on vehicle number-plates. Initially, the numbers corresponded to the alphabetical order of the names of the departments, but several changed their names, so the correspondence became less exact. There is no number 20, but 2A and 2B instead, for Corsicamarker. Corsican postal codes or addresses in both departments do still start with 20, though. The two-digit code "98" is used by Monacomarker. Together with the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code FR, the numbers form the ISO 3166-2 country subdivision codes for the metropolitan departments. The overseas departments get two letters for the ISO 3166-2 code, e.g. 971 for Guadeloupe (see table below).

Party-political preferences

File:Départements-conseils.png|The political preferences of the various departments in the cantonal elections of 2004.File:Conseils généraux 2008.svg|The political preferences of the various departments in the election of 2008.Key to the parties:

The Future

The removal of one or more levels of local government has been discussed for some years; in particular, the option of removing the departmental level. Frédéric Lefebvre, spokesman for the UMP, said in December 2008, that the fusion of the departments with the regions was a matter to be dealt with soon. This was soon refuted by Édouard Balladur and Gérard Longuet, members of the Committee for the reform of local authorities, known as the Balladur Committee.

In January 2008, the "Commission for freeing French development", known as the Attali Commission, recommended that the departmental level of government should be eliminated within ten years.

Nevertheless, the "Committee for the reform of local authorities", known as the Balladur Committee has not retained this proposition and does not advocate the disappearance of the 100 departments, but simply "favours the voluntary grouping of departments", which it suggests also for the regions, with the aim of bring the number of the latter down to fifteen. This committee advocates on the contrary, the suppression of the cantons.

The debate on the reform of local authorities finds an echo in that of retaining the departmental numbers in French vehicle registration numbers. Since April 2009, a departmental number is still included but it is now one chosen by the vehicle owner and not necessarily the place of residence. Also, the number of the department is automatically accompanied on the number plate, by the logo of the region in which the department lies.

Maps and tables

INSEE code Arms Department Prefecture Region
01 Ainmarker Bourg-en-Bressemarker
02 Aisnemarker Laonmarker
03 Alliermarker Moulinsmarker
04 Alpes-de-Haute-Provencemarker Digne-les-Bainsmarker
05 Hautes-Alpesmarker Gapmarker
06 Alpes-Maritimesmarker Nicemarker
07 Ardèchemarker Privasmarker
08 Ardennesmarker Charleville-Mézièresmarker
09 Ariègemarker Foixmarker
10 Aubemarker Troyesmarker
11 Audemarker Carcassonnemarker
12 Aveyronmarker Rodezmarker
13 Bouches-du-Rhônemarker Marseillemarker
14 Calvadosmarker Caenmarker
15 Cantal Aurillacmarker
16 Charentemarker Angoulêmemarker
17 Charente-Maritime La Rochellemarker
18 Chermarker Bourgesmarker
19 Corrèzemarker Tullemarker
2A Corse-du-Sudmarker Ajacciomarker
2B Haute-Corsemarker Bastiamarker
21 Côte-d'Ormarker Dijonmarker
22 Côtes-d'Armormarker Saint-Brieuc
23 Creusemarker Guéretmarker
24 Dordognemarker Périgueuxmarker
25 Doubsmarker Besançonmarker
26 Drômemarker Valencemarker
27 Euremarker Évreuxmarker
28 Eure-et-Loirmarker Chartresmarker
29 Finistèremarker Quimper
30 Gard Nîmesmarker
31 Haute-Garonnemarker Toulousemarker
32 Gersmarker Auchmarker
33 Girondemarker Bordeauxmarker
34 Hérault Montpelliermarker
35 Ille-et-Vilainemarker Rennesmarker
36 Indremarker Châteaurouxmarker
37 Indre-et-Loiremarker Toursmarker
38 Isèremarker Grenoblemarker
39 Juramarker Lons-le-Sauniermarker
40 Landesmarker Mont-de-Marsanmarker
41 Loir-et-Chermarker Bloismarker
42 Loiremarker Saint-Étiennemarker
43 Haute-Loiremarker Le Puy-en-Velaymarker
44 Loire-Atlantiquemarker Nantesmarker
45 Loiretmarker Orléansmarker
46 Lotmarker Cahorsmarker
47 Lot-et-Garonnemarker Agenmarker
48 Lozère Mendemarker
49 Maine-et-Loiremarker Angersmarker
50 Manchemarker Saint-Lômarker
51 Marnemarker Châlons-en-Champagnemarker
52 Haute-Marnemarker Chaumontmarker
53 Mayennemarker Lavalmarker
54 Meurthe-et-Mosellemarker Nancymarker
55 Meusemarker Bar-le-Ducmarker
56 Morbihanmarker Vannes
57 Mosellemarker Metzmarker
58 Nièvremarker Neversmarker
59 Nordmarker Lillemarker
60 Oisemarker Beauvaismarker
61 Ornemarker Alençonmarker
62 Pas-de-Calais Arrasmarker
63 Puy-de-Dômemarker Clermont-Ferrandmarker
64 Pyrénées-Atlantiquesmarker Paumarker
65 Hautes-Pyrénéesmarker Tarbes
66 Pyrénées-Orientales Perpignanmarker
67 Bas-Rhin Strasbourgmarker
68 Haut-Rhinmarker Colmarmarker
69 Rhônemarker Lyonmarker
70 Haute-Saônemarker Vesoul
71 Saône-et-Loiremarker Mâconmarker
72 Sarthe Le Mansmarker
73 Savoiemarker Chambérymarker
74 Haute-Savoiemarker Annecymarker
75 Parismarker Paris
76 Seine-Maritimemarker Rouenmarker
77 Seine-et-Marnemarker Melun
78 Yvelinesmarker Versailles
79 Deux-Sèvresmarker Niortmarker
80 Sommemarker Amiensmarker
81 Tarnmarker Albimarker
82 Tarn-et-Garonnemarker Montaubanmarker
83 Varmarker Toulonmarker
84 Vauclusemarker Avignonmarker
85 Vendéemarker La Roche-sur-Yonmarker
86 Viennemarker Poitiersmarker
87 Haute-Viennemarker Limogesmarker
88 Vosgesmarker Épinalmarker
89 Yonnemarker Auxerremarker
90 Territoire de Belfortmarker Belfortmarker
91 Essonnemarker Évry
92 Hauts-de-Seinemarker Nanterre
93 Seine-Saint-Denismarker Bobigny
94 Val-de-Marnemarker Créteil
95 Val-d'Oisemarker Cergy/Pontoisemarker
971 Guadeloupemarker Basse-Terremarker
972 Martiniquemarker Fort-de-Francemarker
973 Guyanemarker Cayennemarker
974 La Réunionmarker Saint-Denismarker
  • Most of the coats of arms are not official
  • This department was known as Basses-Alpes until 1970
  • This department was known as Charente-Inférieure until 1941
  • This department was known as Côtes-du-Nord until 1990
  • This department was known as Bec-d'Ambès until 1795
  • This department was known as Loire-Inférieure until 1957
  • This department was known as Mayenne-et-Loire until 1791
  • This department was known as Basses-Pyrénées until 1969
  • Number 75 was formerly assigned to Seinemarker
  • This department was known as Seine-Inférieure until 1955
  • Number 78 was formerly assigned to Seine-et-Oisemarker
  • Number 91 was formerly assigned to Alger, in French Algeria
  • Number 92 was formerly assigned to Oran, in French Algeria
  • Number 93 was formerly assigned to Constantine, in French Algeria
  • The prefecture of Val-d'Oisemarker was established in Pontoisemarker when the department was created, but moved de facto to the neighbouring commune of Cergy; currently, both form the ville nouvelle of Cergy-Pontoisemarker
  • The overseas departments each constitute a region and enjoy a status identical to metropolitan France. They are part of France and the European Union, though special EU rules apply to them.
Regions and departments of metropolitan France; the numbers are those of the first column
The departments in the immediate vicinity of Paris; the numbers are those of the first column

Former departments on the current territory of France

Department Prefecture Dates in existence Notes
Rhône-et-Loiremarker Lyonmarker 1790–1793 Split into Rhônemarker and Loiremarker on 12 August 1793.
Corsemarker Bastiamarker 1790–1793 Split into Golo and Liamone.
Golo Bastiamarker 1793–1811 Reunited with Liamone into Corsemarker.
Liamone Ajacciomarker 1793–1811 Reunited with Golo into Corsemarker.
Mont-Blancmarker Chambérymarker 1792–1815 Formed from part of the Duchy of Savoy, a territory of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and was restored to Piedmont-Sardinia after Napoleon's defeat. The department corresponds approximately with the present French departments Savoiemarker and Haute-Savoiemarker.
Léman Genevamarker 1798–1814 Formed when the Republic of Genevamarker was annexed into the First French Empire. Léman became the Swissmarker canton the Republic and Canton of Genevamarker. The department corresponds with the present Swiss canton and parts of the present French departments Ainmarker and Haute-Savoiemarker.
Meurthemarker Nancymarker 1790–1871 Meurthe ceased to exist following the annexation of Alsace-Lorrainemarker by the German Empiremarker in 1871 and was not recreated after the province was restored to France by the Treaty of Versailles.
Seinemarker Parismarker 1790–1967 On 1 January 1968, Seine was divided into four new departments: Parismarker, Hauts-de-Seinemarker, Seine-Saint-Denismarker and Val-de-Marnemarker, gaining territory from Seine-et-Oisemarker in the process.
Seine-et-Oisemarker Versailles 1790–1967 On 1 January 1968, Seine-et-Oise was divided into three new departments: Yvelinesmarker, Val-d'Oisemarker and Essonnemarker, with some territory lost to Seinemarker in the process.
Corsemarker Ajacciomarker 1811–1975 On 15 September 1975, Corse was divided in two, to form Corse-du-Sudmarker and Haute-Corsemarker.
Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelonmarker Saint-Pierre 1976–1985 Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon was an overseas department from 1976 until it was converted to an overseas collectivity on 11 June 1985.

French Algeria

Before 1957
Department Prefecture Dates of existence
91 Alger Algiersmarker (1848–1957)
92 Oran Oranmarker (1848–1957)
93 Constantine Constantinemarker (1848–1957)
Bône Annabamarker (1955–1957)

Department Prefecture Dates of existence
8A Oasis Ouarglamarker (1957–1962)
8B Saoura Becharmarker (1957–1962)
9A Alger Algiers (1957–1962)
9B Batna Batnamarker (1957–1962)
9C Bône Annaba (1955–1962)
9D Constantine Constantine (1957–1962)
9E Médéa Medeamarker (1957–1962)
9F Mostaganem Mostaganemmarker (1957–1962)
9G Oran Oran (1957–1962)
9H Orléansville Chlefmarker (1957–1962)
9J Sétif Setifmarker (1957–1962)
9K Tiaret Tiaretmarker (1957–1962)
9L Tizi-Ouzou Tizi Ouzoumarker (1957–1962)
9M Tlemcen Tlemcenmarker (1957–1962)
9N Aumale Sour el Ghozlane (1958–1959)
9P Bougie Bejaiamarker (1958–1962)
9R Saïda Saïdamarker (1958–1962)
Unlike the rest of French-controlled Africa, Algeria was officially incorporated into France from 1848 until its independence in 1962

Former colonies of France

Department Modern-day location Dates in existence
Département du Sud Hispaniolamarker
( and )
Département de l'Inganne 1795–1800
Département du Nord 1795–1800
Département de l'Ouest 1795–1800
Département de Samana 1795–1800
Sainte-Lucie , 1795–1800
Île de France , Rodriguesmarker, 1795–1800
Indes-Orientales Pondicherymarker, Karikalmarker, Yanaonmarker, Mahe and Chandernagoremarker 1795–1800

Napoleonic Empire

There are a number of former departments in territories conquered by France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire that are now not part of France:

Department Prefecture
(French name)
(English name)
Contemporary location² Dates in existence
Mont-Terrible Porrentruymarker Holy Roman Empire: 1793–1800
Corcyre Corfou Corfumarker 4 1797–1799
Ithaque Argostolimarker 1797–1798
Mer-Égée Zantemarker Zakynthosmarker 1797–1798
Dylemarker Bruxelles Brusselsmarker Austrian Netherlands: 1795–1814
Escautmarker Gand Ghentmarker

Austrian Netherlands: Dutch Republic: 1795–1814
Forêts Luxembourgmarker

Austrian Netherlands: 1795–1814
Jemmapemarker Monsmarker Austrian Netherlands: Holy Roman Empire: 1795–1814
Lysmarker Brugesmarker Austrian Netherlands: 1795–1814
Meuse-Inférieure Maëstricht Maastrichtmarker

Austrian Netherlands: Dutch Republic: Holy Roman Empire: Maastrichtmarker5 1795–1814
Deux-Nèthesmarker Anvers Antwerpmarker Austrian Netherlands: Dutch Republic: 1795–1814
Ourthemarker Liègemarker

Austrian Netherlands: Holy Roman Empire: 1795–1814
Sambre-et-Meusemarker Namurmarker Austrian Netherlands: Holy Roman Empire: 1795–1814
Mont-Tonnerre Mayence Mainzmarker Holy Roman Empire: 1801–1814
Rhin-et-Moselle Coblence Koblenzmarker Holy Roman Empire: 1801–1814
Roer Aix-la-Chapelle Aachenmarker

Holy Roman Empire: 1801–1814
Sarre Trèves Triermarker

Holy Roman Empire: 1801–1814
Doire Ivrée Ivreamarker  Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia 1802–1814
Marengo Alexandrie Alessandriamarker 1802–1814
Turinmarker 1802–1814
Sésia Verceil Vercellimarker 1802–1814
Stura Coni Cuneomarker 1802–1814
Tanaro6 Astimarker 1802–1805
Apennins Chiavarimarker Republic of Genoa7 1805–1814
Gênes Gênes Genoamarker 1805–1814
Montenotte Savone Savonamarker 1805–1814
Arno Florencemarker Grand Duchy of Tuscany8 1808–1814
Méditerranée Livourne Livornomarker 1808–1814
Ombrone Sienne Sienamarker 1808–1814
Taro Parme Parmamarker Holy Roman Empire: 1808–1814
Rome10 Romemarker Papal Statesmarker 1809–1814
Trasimène Spolète Spoletomarker 1809–1814
Bouches-du-Rhin Bois-le-Duc 's-Hertogenboschmarker Dutch Republic11: 1810–1814
Bouches-de-l'Escaut Middelbourg Middelburgmarker Dutch Republic11: 1810–1814
Simplon Sionmarker République des Sept Dizainsmarker12 1810–1814
Bouches-de-la-Meuse La Haye The Haguemarker Dutch Republic11: 1811–1814
Bouches-de-l'Yssel Zwollemarker Dutch Republic11: 1811–1814
Ems-Occidental Groningue Groningenmarker

Dutch Republic11: 1811–1814
Ems-Oriental Aurichmarker Holy Roman Empire: 1811–1814
Frise Leuwarden Leeuwardenmarker Dutch Republic11: 1811–1814
Yssel-Supérieur Arnhemmarker Dutch Republic11: 1811–1814
Zuyderzée Amsterdammarker Dutch Republic11: 1811–1814
Bouches-de-l'Elbe Hamburg Hamburgmarker Holy Roman Empire: 1811–1814
Bouches-du-Weser Brême Bremenmarker Holy Roman Empire: 1811–1814
Ems-Supérieurmarker Osnabrückmarker Holy Roman Empire: 1811–1814
Lippemarker12 Munster Münstermarker Holy Roman Empire: 1811–1814
Bouches-de-l'Èbre Lérida Lleidamarker Kingdom of Spain: 1812–1813
Montserrat Barcelone Barcelonamarker 1812–1813
Sègre Puigcerda Puigcerdà 1812–1813
Ter Gérone Gironamarker 1812–1813
Bouches-de-l'Èbre–Montserrat Barcelone Barcelonamarker Previously the departments of Bouches-de-l'Èbre and Montserrat 1813–1814
Sègre–Ter Gérone Gironamarker Previously the departments of Sègre and Ter 1813–1814

Notes for Table 7:
  1. Where a Napoleonic department was composed of parts from more than one country, the nation-state containing the prefecture is listed. Please expand this table to list all countries containing significant parts of the department.
  2. Territories that were a part of Austrian Netherlands were also a part of Holy Roman Empire.
  3. The Bishopric of Basel was a German Prince-Bishopric, not to be confused with the adjacent Swiss Canton of Baselmarker.
  4. The territories of the were lost to France, becoming the Septinsular Republic, a nominal protectorate of the , from 1800–07. After reverting to France as the Illyrian Provinces, these territories then became a Britishmarker protectorate, as the United States of the Ionian Islands
  5. Maastrichtmarker was a condominium of the Dutch Republic and the Bishopric of Liègemarker.
  6. On 6 June 1805, as a result of the annexation of the Ligurian Republic (the puppet successor state to the Republic of Genoa), Tanaro was abolished and its territory divided between the departments of Marengo, Montenotte and Stura.
  7. Before becoming the department of Apennins, the Republic of Genoa was converted to a puppet successor state, the Ligurian Republic.
  8. Before becoming the department of Arno, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was converted to a puppet successor state, the Kingdom of Etruria.
  9. Before becoming the department of Taro, the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza was annexed to the Cisalpine Republicmarker until 1802, the Italian Republicmarker, from 1802 until 1805 and the Kingdom of Italy, from 1805 until 1808.
  10. Rome was known as the until 1810.
  11. Before becoming the departments of Bouches-du-Rhin, Bouches-de-l'Escaut, Bouches-de-la-Meuse, Bouches-de-l'Yssel, Ems-Occidental, Frise, Yssel-Supérieur and Zuyderzée, these territories of the Dutch Republic were converted to a puppet successor state, the Batavian Republic (1795–1806), then those territories that had not already been annexed (all except the first two departments here), along with the Prussianmarker County of East Frisia, were converted to another puppet state, the Kingdom of Holland.
  12. Before becoming the department of Simplon, the République des Sept Dizainsmarker was converted to a revolutionary République du Valais (16 March 1798) which was swiftly incorporated (1 May 1798) into the puppet Helvetic Republic until 1802 when it became the independent Rhodanic Republic.
  13. In the months before Lippemarker was formed, the arrondissements of Reesmarker and Münstermarker were part of Yssel-Supérieur, the arrondissement of Steinfurtmarker was part of Bouches-de-l'Yssel and the arrondissement of Neuenhausmarker was part of Ems-Occidental.


See also

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